Diary of an In-law - Forbidden Fruit
Issue 73 October 2010
Ancient cultural tradition in many a South-Asian family suggests that certain activities are not to be carried out in the presence of elders out of respect.
Smoking, for instance, is one of them. The entire world will know that Uncle Parvaiz is a chain smoker yet still there will be a certain person or persons in front of whom Uncle Parvaiz would rather be seen dead than caught in the act. It is, ultimately, quite a strange concept yet it is widely practiced. My older brother in law is one of those very people. He is a movie freak - the cinema is his second home, his favourite being Indian musicals. In America, this is his life but as a bachelor in his father’s home, it was the forbidden fruit.
My brother in law was his father’s role model son, the apple of his eye. Being the eldest, he felt a lot of pressure to maintain Dad’s expectations. My father in law disapproved strongly of Indian movies. He felt they acted as a love disease for the younger generation and he wasn’t having this infection grow in his home.
Since I joined the family, I never saw a DVD player in the house and as for satellite channels; we had sports and other commercial channels but no Indian channels. The only slight indulgence in Bollywood-culture was Dad’s collection of music records, which were solely for his use.
My brother in law, Shareef came over with his family for Eid one year, desperate for a break after his hectic and demanding work schedule. He wanted to truly relax and enjoy himself. That meant, of course, a definite (secret) trip to the cinema. Much to his disappointment, the movies showing were ones he’d already seen due to their early release in America.
Come Eid day, Shareef followed me sneakily into the kitchen whispering, “what time does dad take his afternoon nap? Was thinking maybe we can rent a DVD player...what do you say?”
It sounded so much like criminal plotting, that I found it both amusing and dangerous. But I knew it was harmless so I agreed to find out where we could rent a DVD player.
Soon after lunch, I borrowed a DVD player from my neighbour who had a spare whilst Shareef and his wife snuck out to rent some films they hadn’t seen. I wondered why there was all this fuss considering I watched whatever I wanted, when I wanted without any bother from Dad but I guess Shareef had a different understanding with Dad.
During Ramadan, Dad had gotten out of his nap-taking routine as he spent more time in prayer but he was exhausted by the time it was Eid, and went off at 4pm. As he shut the door behind him, there was an immediate shift in the room.
Shareef, who was rather anxious, warned the two little ones, “if Dada asks what you’ve been doing, don’t say you were watching a movie, okay?”
The show began with a bowl of popcorn in our hands just like the good old cinema. Shareef remained jumpy and kept the volume low in case he didn’t hear Dad come down and clutched the remote in his hand. It became a joke and we continued to tease him about it throughout the duration of the film.
Half way through, the film was getting more interesting and reaching its climax. We all insisted the volume be raised. Suddenly, there came a badgering at the door. And yes, it was Dad. Shareef had placed our tea table against the door just for this very reason, as a precaution; rather a primary school attitude but you can just imagine the intensity of his discomfort. His immediate reaction was to hit the off button on the DVD player and on came a regular sky channel.
Dad walked in rather confused wondering why the door was blocked with a table. “It was for the kids,” stammered my sister in law. “They were running in and out, slamming the doors, we didn’t want to wake you up so we blocked the door.” Dad looked towards the TV set. “You kept them in a room and made them watch wrestling?” quizzed Dad. Shareef hadn’t realised which channel he had turned to but he was relieved that he wasn’t caught doing one of his father’s most dislikeable activities.
My father in law, thinking that the poor kids had been placed on room-arrest, reached out his arms to them and up bounced the two onto his lap. “My poor babies. Why didn’t they let you have any fun? What were you doing all this time?” The little one kissed Dad on his cheek, rested his head on his shoulder and announced, “We ate popcorn, and had drinks and we didn’t watch an Indian movie!”